Freedom and the Court: Civil Rights and Liberties in the United States

By Henry J. Abraham | Go to book overview

VI
Religion

IF LINE-DRAWING in the realm of due process is difficult because of the ambiguity of the concept, and if it is elusive in determining the freedom of expression, it is pre-eminently delicate and emotional in the matter of religion. Religion, like love, is so personal and irrational that no one has either the capacity or justification to sit in judgment.1 (This is not to say that people do not try -- be they plain citizens, members of the cloth, or eminent psychiatrists!) Any attempt by society to find and draw a line here is bound to be frustrating. Our own society is certainly no exception -- although it is to America's credit that in probably no other area of civil rights and liberties have our agencies and agents of government maintained such a consistently good record. More even than the hallowed freedom of the press has the freedom of religion been safeguarded from governmental interference. This is not to say, of course, that we have a perfect record; our early history is replete with both public and private discrimination against religious creeds, particularly Catholics, Quakers, and Jews. However, as we grew and developed as a nation, discrimination by government declined perceptibly and fairly rapidly. Private religious discrimination is no longer, if it ever was, affirmatively encouraged or even sanctioned by government, and when it occurs it is pre-eminently of a "social" rather than a "religious" nature. The problems arise when attempts are made to commingle matters of religious

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1
Still, the author feels tempted to profess a modicum of "expertise": a product of secular secondary schools, he spent one year at a Roman Catholic university; was graduated from an Episcopal college; married a Christian Scientist; his children go to Quaker schools; and he is a member of the Board of Trustees of an old Reform Jewish Congregation.

-172-

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